Your Guide to the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Degree

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Earning your Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is an important step if you’re interested in a social work career.

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The social work profession “promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people,” according to the International Federation of Social Workers [1]. This often means working with individuals, families, and communities to identify problems and develop strategies to manage or solve them. 

Earning your Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is an important step if you’re interested in a social work career. It’s often a requirement for entry-level administrative roles. And, if you’re interested in more advanced roles, it can lay the foundation for a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree—a requirement for clinical social worker roles.   

In this article, we’ll cover the BSW degree, including how long it takes to earn, the courses you’ll most likely take, and the paths you can follow after graduation.  

What is a BSW degree? 

A BSW degree is an undergraduate degree that tends to take a generalist approach to social work so that you can gain a broad understanding of the profession and pursue a number of different paths after graduation.   

Unlike certain other bachelor’s degree majors, which typically require that you declare your intent, majoring in social work often requires an additional application to a special program, department, or school within your college or university that focuses on social work.

Length of time + cost

As with other bachelor’s degrees, a Bachelor of Social Work takes around four years of full-time study to complete. In addition to the general education requirements you’ll fulfill as part of your degree, you can expect to complete at least half of the 120 minimum credits it takes to graduate in your social work major.  

A bachelor’s degree costs an average annual total of $20,598 for a public four-year institution and $44,662 for a private four-year institution, according to the National Center for Education Statistics [2].

Types of coursework 

You’ll be expected to complete a number of required major courses in order to graduate with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. Your social work coursework may include topics like: 

  • Human behavior

  • Diversity or multicultural social work

  • Social work policy 

  • Social work research methods

  • Child welfare

  • Communications 

Field internship 

You’ll also need to complete a field internship before graduating, fulfilling at least 400 hours, according to the Council on Social Work Education [3]. Your internship typically falls during the final year or last semester in your program and can take many different forms—usually working with an agency or organization. The purpose is to help you develop practical experience to augment what you’ve learned in your courses.  

Learn more: Your Guide to Social Work Degrees

What can you do with a BSW? 

With a BSW, you can either enter the workforce or continue on to graduate school. Let’s look more closely at each of those paths. 

Entry-level roles

After earning your BSW degree, you can pursue entry-level administrative roles in the social work field. You can also apply for a number of entry-level social services jobs, including: 

  • Case worker 

  • Child and family advocate 

  • Community outreach worker  

  • Human services specialist 

  • Probation officer 

  • Social services aide 

  • Youth worker 

Many social services jobs in the United States are government jobs. Depending on the state you live in, you can find job listings through a central government hub like USAJobs or through various counties’ websites. 

Master of Social Work (MSW) 

If you’re interested in more advanced roles, you may want to explore a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. With a BSW, you may qualify for accelerated MSW programs, which reduce the amount of coursework you need to complete. With a master’s level degree, you can become a licensed clinical social worker, therapist, or other state-certified social work professional. Here are some common roles that MSW graduates go on to do: 

  • Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)

  • Behavior analyst 

  • Child welfare worker 

  • Medical social worker

  • Addiction counselor 

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Do you need a BSW to earn an MSW? 

No. If you’re interested in achieving a graduate-level degree in social work, there are many related majors that will help provide a useful foundation, including:

 

  • Bachelor of Arts in Sociology 

  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology 

  • Bachelor of Science in Health and Human Services

There are also many combination programs, such as BA/MSW or BSW/MSW, which are designed to significantly reduce the time you’ll spend earning both degrees. When you enroll in a combination degree program in social work, oftentimes you may only need to spend one additional year—instead of two or three—earning your master’s. 

Learn more: What Is the Difference Between a BA and a BS Degree?

What are the benefits of a BSW degree?

As an important credential to begin a career in social work, a Bachelor of Social Work has several benefits.

Salary + job growth 

As a profession, social workers in the United States earn a median salary of $51,760 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [4]. That’s higher than the average median salary for all occupations. And social work as a profession is set to grow by 12 percent over the next 10 years, which is faster than average. 

Meaning and impact

At its core, social work is about helping others. The National Association of Social Workers states, “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet basic and complex needs of all people, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty” [5]. Many people enter the profession because of the potential impact they can have and the meaning that may create within their career. 

Which BSW degree program is right for me? 

The best BSW degree program is the one that helps you achieve your goals, be those personal, professional, or educational. As you research potential programs, here are four additional factors to consider: 

Your goals 

Your long-term education or career goals can help determine which BSW degree program is best for you. If you’d like to go on to pursue an MSW, then it may help to find a BSW/MSW (or BA/MSW) program, where you can earn your Master of Social Work in an additional year. If, however, you are more interested in working after graduation, then a standard BSW degree program may be the best choice. 

Accreditation 

Accreditation, or the verification that a social work program meets certain quality standards, is important when selecting the best BSW degree program for you. In the United States, only the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) can provide accreditation for social work programs [6]. As you research potential programs, make sure to verify their accreditation status—or you can check the CSWE Directory for a list of accredited bachelor’s programs. 

Field internship 

The types of internships you’ll find may depend on location and even the connections a program has established with external professional organizations. As you look at various BSW degree programs, take time to find out where many students intern—or reach out to an admissions counselor for more information. Given the professional experience you’ll gain from an internship, it’s important to make sure it aligns with your larger goals. 

Online vs. in-person 

How you want to study—and the flexibility you’ll need to do so—is another important consideration when determining the best BSW degree program for you. There are a number of online BSW degree options you can explore. If you’d like to work while attending school, or if you’d prefer learning from home (or anywhere with an internet connection) rather than attending in-person classes, then an online BSW program may be worth exploring. 

Next steps 

Learn more about social work fundamentals with the top-rated University of Michigan’s Social Work: Practice, Policy and Research MasterTrack® Certificate. If you decide to apply to the University of Michigan Master of Social Work (MSW) and are accepted, your MasterTrack® Certificate will count toward your degree.

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Article sources

1. International Federation of Social Workers. “Social Work Action, https://www.ifsw.org/what-is-social-work/global-definition-of-social-work/." Accessed February 3, 2022.

2. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). “The NCES Fast Facts Tool Provides Quick Answers to Many Education Questions (National Center for Education Statistics), https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76". Accessed February 4, 2022.

3. Council on Social Work Education. “Social Work Education at a Glance, https://www.cswe.org/Students/Prepare-for-Your-Career/Social-Work-At-A-Glance." Accessed February 4, 2022.

4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Social Workers : Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm."  Accessed February 4, 2022

5. National Association of Social Workers. “Why Choose the Social Work Profession?, https://www.socialworkers.org/Careers/NASW-Career-Center/Explore-Social-Work/Why-Choose-the-Social-Work-Profession." Accessed February 4, 2022.

6. Social Work Licensure. “CSWE Accreditation: The Importance of Program Accreditation for Social Workers, https://socialworklicensure.org/social-worker-education/cswe-accreditation/." Accessed February 4, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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